Millennials

People Want to Help the World, But They Want to Be Recognized for It

A recent study found that aspiring millennial entrepreneurs aren't just thinking about how they can help, but if their contribution will be valued by the recipients.
People Want to Help the World, But They Want to Be Recognized for It
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Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
3 min read

It’s never a great idea to paint an entire cohort with a broad brush, especially when it comes to the frequent punching bags that are millennials. But according to a recent study, millennials want the same thing as everyone else -- recognition for their work, even when it comes to saving the world.

Researchers from England’s Anglia Ruskin University sought to explore that idea further. The researchers tried to figure out what factors would compel 300 undergraduates taking social entrepreneurship courses to want to pursue a career in the space. It turns out that it wasn’t only empathy and simply wanting to do good in the world that inspired them.

The students were interviewed twice, several weeks apart about their concerns and goals. The researchers found that not all the students who expressed empathy and a wish to better the world wanted to become a social entrepreneur. But the members of the group that intended to pursue that career had a confidence that they would make a difference and a desire to feel valued by the people they would be helping.

Related: 7 Surprising Traits That Make Millennials Excellent Employees

"Our focus on university students also offers an interesting perspective on a generation that is often portrayed in paradoxical ways,” study author Dr. Elisa Alt said in a statement about the findings. “Millennials are either generation 'me me me,' or the generation that is seeking meaning through a stronger sense of social responsibility. Our study paints a more nuanced picture of how they go about forming career intentions.”

Clearly, millennials aren’t driven purely driven by narcissism or altruism. And while the findings might seem seems a little odd at first glance -- you don’t just want to help people out of the kindness of your heart? -- it makes sense when you look at how not just millennials, but workers of all ages, think about recognition at work.

Related: The 10 Most Popular Jobs With Millennials -- Is Yours on This List?

In 2015, IBM put together a study called “Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths: The real story behind millennials in the workplace.” They found that for millennials, gen Xers and baby boomers, most of their goals at the office were pretty similar. A quarter of millennials, 21 percent of gen Xers and 23 percent of baby boomers reported that one of their long-term goals was to make a positive impact on their organization.

There is also the question of how that “value” can manifest itself. 2016 Gallup data about employee recognition found that there were a number of ways workers feel appreciated across all cohorts -- and money isn’t even the most important one. It can be public or private recognition, a positive review, more responsibility or just general satisfaction and pride in their work.

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